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American Flat Track Motorcycle Racing Enjoying Resurgence

[photo courtesy of American Flat Track/Dave Haughs]

[photo courtesy of American Flat Track/Dave Haughs]

Turk’s Tracks
A Few Loose Lugnuts from Pit Row

by Gene Turk

As fall is upon us, most of the motorsport racing season has ended or, like NASCAR, are down to their last few races for 2017. So, I was just curious as to how attendance was during various venues. Well, it turns out that many of the track promoters had a hard time filling empty seats at the races in 2017. Along with a drop in attendance, many races had a drop in T.V. viewership. But then something caught my eye. It seems that American Flat Track racing had its best attendance in 2017. The 2017 attendance was up a whopping 76% over the 2016 attendance. They also set a new record of 15,000 fans at a race in Sturgis, South Dakota. This was taking the sport to a new level not seen in the last 30 years. So, I decided to dig a little deeper and find out why this form of racing was showing such an increase in popularity.

To begin, this form of motorcycle racing can trace its roots back to the 1920’s. It is regarded as the most prestigious and competitive form of dirt track motorcycle racing in the world. At its core, “it’s highly competitive, adrenaline-fueled American motorcycle sport featuring customized motorcycles reaching top speeds of up to 140 MPH for the V-twin class.” These races are run on 1/4, 1/2 or 1 mile dirt tracks. There are two classes of cycles- single cylinder and twin cylinder. This form of racing is now a global affair with cycles from Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki, Triumph, Ducati, KTM, and Husqvarna. It is pretty hard to argue that a pack of motorcycles banging handle bars at 140 MPH won’t get your blood pumping. So, what is behind this resurgence in flat track racing?

The first change is that this series is under new management. New blood has taken over and has an eye to the future to grow the sport. The other major change was that half of this year’s 18 races were run at dog tracks. Typically, the races were run on fairground tracks. This had a major impact on attendance. These tracks were located near major urban populated areas, and they were modern, clean, had ample parking, and had many more amenities that you would not find at a typical fairgrounds track. The food choices were usually better, the seats more comfortable and the restrooms were clean and modern. I am sure the female fans would surely appreciate the clean restrooms. Another major change was the sponsorship dollars were doubled from 2016 due to a NBCSN sports network deal. This alone was bringing in an estimated 1.5 million viewers plus another 250,000 on franchised T.V.

During my research, I found something special about this sport that set it apart from other motorsports. The fans are invited with open arms to come into the paddock area to visit with the stars, see the mechanics and crew chiefs work on the motorcycles and learn more about the racing from the experts. They also use the 450 cc single cylinder cycles to cultivate young dirt track talent. Finally, the ticket prices are affordable for the working man and they have not priced themselves out of the market place.

The 2017 racing season ended on October 7th in southern California. The top three riders in the main class were Jared Mees, Bryon Smith, and Brad Baker. What was special about their accomplishment was that all three rode specially build Indian 750S motorcycles. Prior to these wins, this class was dominated by Harley-Davidson.

The 2018 racing season is to start in Daytona and, hopefully, will end at the Canterbury Park track located 20 miles from Minneapolis, which is home to Polaris Industries – the parent company of Indian Motorcycles. So in 2018, if a motorcycle flat track race comes to your area, I highly recommend you attend to experience pure American racing at its best.

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Gene Turk was born with racing in his blood. At age 8 he started racing Quarter Midgets as member of the Great Milwaukee Quarter Midget club. For five years he raced the #7 car that his father built. He then graduated from the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) with a degree in Industrial Engineering and Internal Combustion Engineering.

While in college he obtained his Private Pilot’s License.

Along the way he has attended numerous Indy car and stock car races at the Milwaukee Mile during the 60s, 70sand 80s along with area Midget car races. He would also frequently fly to the Brickyard to watch the Indy 500 time trials in the 60s and 70s and more recently attended the 2014 Indy 500.

He has also attended numerous sports car and NASCAR races at Elkhart Lake Road America. Finally, Gene has owned many classic cars including his present 1990 Corvette and is a self-described “Gear Head.”